My Big Green Egg ceramic cooker gets a LOT of use so I'm constantly on the lookout for places that carry replacement parts. During one of my searches for a replacement charcoal grate I came across Fred's Music & BBQ Supply Store. Fred's has a TON of grilling stuff - including a few of the higher end, harder to find lump charcoal brands. While perusing the selection I noticed a HUGE, non-descript bag labeled simply 'Restaurant Charcoal'. My curiosity piqued, I just had to give it a try. At first I was very pleasantly surprised - but a bit of the elation soon wore off.
Here's the scoop on this mystery charcoal (per a video posted on Fred's website last summer): Apparently Fred, who's store is located in Eastern Pennsylvania, caught wind of a mix of South American hardwood lump charcoal that was being used by several restaurants just a couple hours up the road in NYC. He found out who the supplier was and got his hands on a boatload of 26 lb bags.
Aside from the fact that it's pure hardwood, the biggest reason Fred declares this stuff to be his favorite is the size and quantity of the chunks - e.g. little to no crumbs or dust. Sure enough, true to Fred's claims, when I opened my bag it was chock full of very nice size chunks - which was the cause for my initial elation...
As I got further down into the bag the chunks continued to be a very nice size. In fact, some were almost too big - allowing large air gaps which means less fuel fitting into the firebox of my BGE result in less heat and shorter burn time. This was no problem though - a few light smacks with my ash tool broke the uber-large pieces into a more manageable size.
Even when I got more than three quarters of the way through the bag the chunks were still a pretty good size as you can see here:
So, why did my elation wear off after the first couple burns? Two reasons:
- For some reason it not only seemed to take longer to come to heat than some of the other lump charcoals I used, it also didn't burn quite as hot - which threw an extra little kink in the works for me as I cracked the bag open in the fall and used much of it to grill through winter... a season when it already takes enough extra time to bring a ceramic cooker to heat the way it is...
- The ash seemed a bit lighter - and therefore more easily stirred up by the draft or breeze - than that of most other charcoals I've used. On several occasions, when I would pull the heavy-duty cover off my BGE and open it up I found a light white coating of dust on my grate. Trying to brush the remains of burnt cheese or BBQ sauce off a grate is one thing (besides, anything missed by the brush will burn off), trying to brush off fine, sticky dust is another (very irritating).
I'm no scientist but, if I put 2 and 2 together - e.g. less hot burn plus light, wispy ash - I'd say it is a less dense hardwood than, say, oak or hickory which many of the premium charcoals are made from. But, that's just a guess on my part...
All in all, Fred's Music and BBQ supply is a decent charcoal - especially given the quantity in a bag and the large, consistent size of the charcoal lumps.
However, seeing as how I get a really nice lump size from Wegman's grocery store brand lump charcoal - which also comes to heat quicker, burns hotter, and also burns just as long, I think I'll pass on paying shipping (which is brutal - the one downfall of the large bag size/weight but to be expected when buying charcoal online) and just use Wegman's $6 10lb bags as a mainstay when I don't have a primo charcoal like Ozarks Oak on hand.
To wrap up:
- Price: $25.50 for a 26.5 lb bag + about $16 or more in shipping depending on where you're located and what shipping method you chose
- Quality: very good - nice, big lumps right down to bottom of the bag, no rocks, and only about a grapefruit size pile of dust in the bottom of the bag which, given it's size, is well within reason
- Performance: good - burns fairly long but not quite as hot as some other comparible charcoals, leaves behind a normal amount of ash but the ash is a bit 'light' and fairly easily stirred up by draft/breeze